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  • Writer's pictureMallika Gupta

Reflections: New Policy Directions in Transportation Planning

In 'A Field Guide to the Challenge of Financing Urban Access,' Sclar and Lonnroth argue that in the post-war era, transport professionals had to develop mechanisms to accommodate the growing space-consuming needs of automobiles and formulate strategies to objectively evaluate the distribution of funds for road and highway infrastructure. From this need emerged the modern theory of ‘cost-benefit analysis,’ which was specifically constructed to address the timesaving needs of affluent suburb-oriented middle-class drivers who had to efficiently commute to the city center for employment, education, and more. The authors highlight that since timesaving benefits like productivity gains and economic growth were presumed to be equitably shared, the tool’s lack of social neutrality was never questioned. Instead, the technique was widely adopted despite the fact that it inequitably justified the use of general tax revenue for massive urban highway investments benefitting a small category of users.

The authors argue that in light of changing social demographics of urban centers, and the increasing levels of class segregation and income inequality, transport planning ideologies must shift towards "socially inclusive access rather than mobility in the service of timesaving,” wherein urban transport systems are seen as much as a social as an economic good. This requires innovation in financing sources where existing sources must be made more efficient to benefit a broader set of beneficiaries, while technology is used to open new sources that further social inclusion. Lastly, the existing system of individual modal and infrastructural silos will have to be radically challenged, and the governance of transport systems be reframed to address the challenge of social inclusion.

While the socially inclusive urban transport system offers radical shifts within the paradigm, it is still primarily an output-driven, performance-based model. Zako and Lewis’s (2017) report on ‘Better Outcomes’ proposes an alternative approach that recommends focusing on outcome measures that reflect local priorities, rather than assessing the outputs i.e. the stand-alone benefits of a specific project. This can help direct investments in achieving broader public equity goals pertaining to mobility and access, safety, health, cost of living, and environmental degradation. Like the previous model, the authors also present the importance of reimagining transport governance and finance structures while highlighting the need for increased accountability and transparency towards the public.

The article 'Policy Mixes to Achieve Sustainable Mobility after the COVID-19 Crisis" by Griffiths et al. (2021) draws attention to the fact that the shock surrounding COVID-19 has challenged the GHG-intensive, car-based transportation regime across the globe, and created a window of opportunity to shift toward more sustainable mobility practices. This requires the quick and innovative application of a policy mix that “promote public transportation utilization, catalyze the deployment of low-carbon transportation, promote walking and cycling to the extent possible, and directly discourages the use of ICE private cars ... build on climate beneficial and potentially long-term behavioral changes and perceptions induced by COVID-19 and mitigate the negative impacts on the use of public and shared transportation.”

The authors emphasize that if these policies are designed and implemented in an equitable way, they can address the mobility concerns of different marginalized communities and boost economic opportunities while improving broader public health, and reducing carbon emissions. While ideal on paper, the author’s suggestion to move towards car-free transportation as an effective strategy, even with the support of government and private institutions doe not seem viable, especially in a context where gas tax revenue fuels urban development. How then, can governments balance the need for sustainable mobility with economic growth and recovery? In the situation that this window of opportunity does enable a systemic shift, how then could it be ensured that the benefits of sustainable mobility are distributed equitably

across society?

Originally submitted as coursework for CYPLAN 217: Transportation Planning and Policy, Department of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley.

Key Readings:

  1. Steven Griffiths, Dylan Del Rio, and Benjamin Sovacool. (2021). Policy mixes to achieve sustainable mobility after the COVID-19 crisis. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 110919.

  2. Elliott Sclar and Mans Lönnroth (2016). A field guide to the challenge of financing urban access. Chapter 2 in Sclar, Lönnroth, and Wolmar (eds.), Improving urban access: New approaches to funding transport investment, Routledge, pp. 9-22.

  3. Robin Hickman (2017). Sustainable travel or sustaining growth? Chapter 19 in J. Cowie and S. Ison (eds.), The Routledge handbook of transport economics, Routledge, pp. 311-321.

  4. Robert Zako and Rebecca Lewis (2017). Better outcomes: Improving accountability and transparency in transportation decision-making. Portland, OR: Transportation Research and Education Center.


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